No green grass or girls in this city, just great arcade racing
(Updated 1/14/2019: If you’re an avid reader of RRC you may notice some changes to this post. Times change and I was trying a little too hard to be edgy in some of these older pieces, so I’m giving them a 2019 makeover. Thanks for reading!)
The Burnout racing game series has, until this entry, been about driving fast, crashing, and repeatedly pressing A to advance through about a million confirmation, warning, and congratulatory screens. Allow me to give you an example of the kind of punishment one had to endure for the act of finishing a race in first place in Burnout 3: Takedown…
“CONGRATULATIONS!” Press “A”.
“YOU UNLOCKED A NEW CAR!” Press “A”.
“Would you like to save?” Select “Yes”.
“Are you sure?” Press “A”.
“WARNING! Do not remove your memory card during the saving process.” Press “A”.
“Game Saved.” Press “A”.
“Dave, will I dream? Daaaaaaave.” And then you power down the system.
Occasionally you got to play a racing game, but for the most part this is what I recall spending my time doing. Thankfully, this element has been mostly stricken from Burnout Paradise, and replaced with a huge concrete playground to speed excessively in. Fans disappointed by the lack of interruptions will be happy to know that by merely unlocking a few cars they’ll be treated to 2-3 minutes of scrolling text and the obligatory jamming of the “A” button next time they visit the garage. For the rest of us this is an unwelcome distraction but ultimately nowhere near as intolerable as it was in Burnout 3.
Since more often than not I actually got to play Paradise, I should probably say something about the game itself. You’re thrust into an open world environment where events are activated at any street intersection, cars are earned by tracking down and crashing into them, and every single car inexplicably lacks a driver.
The vehicles handle beautifully, reminiscent of great arcade games like Daytona USA. The graphics are crisp, locked at 60 frames per second, and easily readable. The game is so much pure fun that I don’t really see any point in touching something like Gran Turismo or Forza Motorsport ever again (Note from 2019: This was written in 2008, well before Forza Horizon existed). Sorry gearheads, but adjusting camber is never going to be as fun as weaving through traffic at 200 mph, smashing into an opponent, and turning their car into a fiberglass accordion.
The open world is initially awe-inspiring; then unfortunately, for a period, controller-throwing-ly frustrating. The mini-map is zoomed in way too close for the speeds you travel at. You’ll regularly find yourself taking an entirely wrong turn, thinking you took a shortcut, and then finishing dead last. There are turn signals at the top of the screen that tell you when to turn if you don’t want to take any shortcuts, but the moment you go off the beaten path it is critical that you ignore those cues completely.
The key to success in Burnout Paradise is to ignore the mini map, and just learn the city. Eventually you’ll start to know major roads by name, the best shortcuts, and the craziest stunt jumps. Once it all clicks the game becomes a completely different beast, and it’s entirely worth the effort.
One feature I must hit on is the amazing online play. Everything is so seamless you can literally do a double barrel roll off a cliff while inviting your friends to your game. The only time there’s a break in the action is when you gather everyone for a race. Races always end at one of the 8 major landmarks in the city but can start from any intersection. This is especially brilliant because once you learn all of the finish lines no matter where the race starts you have a general idea of where to go. There are few gaming experiences as adrenaline pumping as a close 8 player race in Burnout Paradise.
There’s a lot more to say about this game, but it’s really not necessary for me to go on and on about the hundreds of single player events, 350 co-op challenges, user created races, webcam support, and wide variety of vehicles. All told, I’ve spent over 25 hours playing this game and I’m absolutely ready to go back for more. If you love racing games, buy Burnout Paradise immediately. I will again warn that there is a multi-hour learning period as you settle into Paradise City, but ultimately it pays off. Casual gamers will have fun tooling around the city while the hardcore will aim for every shortcut. If you’re in between it’s possible you’ll end up overwhelmed and bored, but try to stick with it, learn with some friends, and it will eventually gel. Burnout Paradise is easily the best entry in the series and one of the best arcade racing game ever.